The other day when I was at work (PintandoCaminos),Valeria, who is in 3rd grade, approached me to say thank you for helping her with a school project she had been working on so she wouldn't fail English. It turns out, she told me, that after spending a couple days working with us in our homework help program her project got the best score in the class - and she passed English. I felt warm in my chest and about as happy as can be, because I knew that she had done all the hard work of learning on her own. All I had done was help her understand the instructions and focus a little, and encourage her. These are things that her teachers in her school – with limited resources, classes of 40 or more students, and sometimes just 2 hours of class per subject, per week – often are unable to do. So when she thanked me I told her I was proud of her. I really was.
Valeria wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. I know she’s perfectly capable, but when I look at her longing eleven-year-old eyes I can’t help but wonder if she’ll make it, if she’ll really be given access to the kinds of opportunities that allow her to break cycle of poverty that has trapped her family for generations. I wonder the same for the other boys and girls. Years from now, will I learn that Valeria and her friends have grown into healthy young men and women, who are bettering themselves and working hard to realize their dreams and the dreams of their community? Or will I find another succession of desperate adolescents who have replaced hope with the sad truth of our present reality, who spend their nights surviving and escaping their pain by any means necessary? I never try to answer this question because I know it’s purpose is to motivate me into action rather than get me to speculate about an uncertain future – and because I know that its answer depends on how we collectively respond as fellow humans.
The truth is that small initiatives like Pintando Caminos don’t have the power to change the whole world, or a whole country, or even one community. That depends on the people in those communities, and on the direction we take as a global society. But places like Pintando Caminos represent what we hope to achieve in the future. They show us that there are people willing to invest their time and energy in the most important sustainable resource we have – our children – and our children are eager to demonstrate that if we give them the opportunity they are ready to learn and share with the world the wisdom and simplicity of their youth.
I’m the first to admit that one more youth organization in one more oppressed neighborhood in one more difficult city in some other country is not going to solve the world’s problems, but I can also say with confidence that Pintando Caminos is eliciting the best out of children like Valeria. I am learning from them that such places serve as examples of a future that has the potential to become reality if we only work hard and long enough out of love. The most profound gift that such organizations give – to all of us – is hope for a better tomorrow. But the most tangible gifts that Pintando Caminos gives to the kids its serves are the self-value and self-confidence that come from having full stomachs and the chance to thrive as learners, and, as kids who like to play and laugh and explore.
For more information on Pintando Caminos, or to donate, visit our project page: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/better-life-than-war-and-poverty-for-bogota-youth/